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More nurses face burnout as COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates nursing shortage

KOMO-TV Seattle logo KOMO-TV Seattle 5/12/2021 Suzanne Phan | KOMO News Reporter
More nurses face burnout because of COVID-19 as pandemic exacerbates nursing shortage
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The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many local nurses to the verge of burnout. 

A Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 3 of 10 health care workers have considered getting out of the field.

During National Nurses Week in 2021, many nurses say they need more support--mentally, emotionally, and physically. The pandemic has exacerbated the ongoing nursing shortage and pushed many to leave or think about leaving nursing.

“Everybody is tired. I’m tired,” said nurse Jacob Kostecka.

Every day for the past year, Kostecka came into contact with people with COVID. About two weeks ago, he left the critical care unit at Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia.

“I’ve been in ICU for 15 years. Recently made the decision to leave the ICU.”

KOMO News talked to him right after he left.

“It’s been a hard year. I have definitely dealt with some burnout. I’m not leaving nursing. But I can’t stay in the ICU anymore,” said Kostecka.

Back in December, Kostecka told KOMO News the ratio was two patients to one nurse at his hospital.

Across the country and in Washington State, there’s a serious ongoing nursing shortage.

We asked Department of Health exactly how serious the nursing shortage is in Washington State, but they haven't been able to give us exact numbers.

According to DOH, there about 140,000 licensed nurses in Washington. DOH says that’s hardly enough to care for all the patients with COVID-19.

“I think the shortage is very serious," said Lynnette Vehrs with the Washington State Nurses Association. "I know of some colleagues, some members in the association that have had to step away from ICU, nursing or nursing all together because it just was not what they wanted. So, it’s something we need to pay attention to."

“There is a lot of trauma," said Jane Hopkins with SEIU Health Care 1199 Northwest, a health care union that includes as many as 16,000 nurses. "People are tired."

Nurses have been asked to do more now than ever before. Others said the pandemic is taking them away from caring for patients who need help with other services.

“A lot of us are working on the front lines giving shots and doing testing so that pulls away a little bit too,” Vehrs said.

Nurse Samantha Conley works in the neuroscience acute care unit at Harborview Medical Center.

“The trauma and the PTSD are really going to build up," Conley said. "And I really worry that we are going to come up with a big deflation of the profession."

“The concern right now is what is going to happen when this crisis is over," Hopkins. "We are going to see an exodus of nurses leaving. We strongly believe that nurses are going to say, ‘I did my part, but I can’t do this anymore. We also know a lot of nurses were going to retire last year, but didn’t get to retire. We’re going to see an exodus of nurses that are going to retire as well. A lot of our nurses, if you look at the research, really are in late 40s, 50s. So, we need to have more nurses come into the system.”

Currently, to mitigate the effects of the nursing shortage, Washington State Hospital Association said it has worked with the state to expedite licensing for nurses from other states and new graduate nurses.

The group asked the state to move those patients that don’t need to be in hospitals to care centers to free up more nurses.

Hospitals continue to rely on travel nurses for help but more help is needed.

Nurses said resources are stretched even thinner now. More people are returning to the hospital for the general care they missed all last year.

And, nurses said they are bracing themselves for the upcoming surge of patients. More people end up in the hospital during the summer because more people are participating in risky outdoor activities, Conley said.

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